With season lost, time for Cards to look ahead

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The starting quarterback can’t stay healthy, the backup quarterback can’t hit a wide-open freight car and the third-string QB is astonishingly adept at hitting opposing defenders.

Sounds like the trailer to an awful cable TV series, no?

Unfortunately, it’s not fantasy. It’s macabre reality for the Cardinals. And the grisly addendum is that there are no backups left to whom the Cardinals fan base can hitch its pathetic dreams.

“There’s no great solution coming through that door. There’s no great players that are going to come in here and fix this,” veteran Vonnie Holliday said. “We’ve got to fix this from within.”

We don’t know if the Ryan Lindley experiment will last beyond this week. Given the way coach Ken Whisenhunt unceremoniously yanked John Skelton after one quarter last week with the Cards leading 13-0 in Atlanta, it is hard to imagine Whisenhunt dusting off that hopeless script.

Maybe the Cards will decide to give Lindley another crack despite his four-interception, two-pick-six performance in the Rams’ 31-17 win Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. Or maybe Kevin Kolb will be healthy enough to play when the Cardinals travel to face the Jets next weekend.

Whatever that decision may be, it’s time to examine the bigger picture, because the immediate picture – the 2012 season – is over except for the five games required to play out the string. It’s evaluation time, and the Cards have to take a long, hard look at several key areas, even if Whisenhunt is contractually constrained from admitting it.

“We’re going to put the best guys in there that give us a chance to win games,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re not going to evaluate personnel over trying to win games.”

Among the things the Cardinals must ponder over the final five weeks of the season:

If they can’t put together two or three wins down the stretch, has Whisenhunt done enough to keep his job for at least one more season?

Should they pick up running back Beanie Wells’ option in 2013 because he’s the best option available, or should they cut ties because of the concerns over his durability?

Can the offensive line’s shortcomings be addressed through free agency, or is it finally time to make a concerted effort on that front through the draft, even if that process is slow?

And finally, what the heck should the Cardinals do about their quarterback situation? Should they keep Kolb, whose salary increases from $1 million to $9 million next season along with a small, additional bonus that puts him in the neighborhood of $10 million? It is obvious now that Kolb gives this team its best chance to win, but he has missed about half the 27 games the Cards have played since he arrived due to injuries.

Should they keep Skelton as a backup for the final year of his contract, knowing now that he is not starting material in the NFL? If Kolb can’t go next week, should they keep moving forward with Lindley for the rest of the season to see if he can progress enough to assume greater duties, or should they re-insert Kolb at the first opportunity to build some momentum for next season — and maybe to save Whisenhunt’s job?

The early returns on Lindley were not good. We were told he made good decisions in practice when the staff gave him more opportunities to play with the first team over the bye week. We were told he could make the throws necessary to win a game. Yet on Sunday, and with the giant caveat that he was a rookie making his first NFL start, Lindley showed neither ability.

On the Cards’ opening scoring drive on which he went 7 for 8 passes for 80 yards, Lindley benefited from a game plan that allowed him to throw simple, safe passes underneath and in the middle of the field as the Cards took a 7-0 lead.

But then the Rams adjusted their pressure and their coverage. When Lindley was forced to throw outside the numbers, either because of the Rams’ alignment or because of play calls that had to keep the defense honest, he threw a pair of pick-sixes, one on a bad decision on which LaRod Stephens-Howling was covered, the other on a badly underthrown ball to Larry Fitzgerald.

Overall, he threw four interceptions and displayed an inability to consistently throw accurately or with enough velocity on balls outside the numbers on the field. Lindley completed 31 of 52 passes for 312 yards, but those stats were inflated, just like Skelton’s were early in this losing streak. The bottom line: Lindley made crucial mistakes, both on the interceptions and on missed plays, like an overthrow to a wide-open Fitzgerald.

“You’ve got to roll with the punches in this league,” Lindley said. “I think I punched myself pretty good today.”

So did the Cards, who got a less-than-stellar effort from their defense and nothing from their offense in the second half. Sunday’s loss gave the Cards their second seven-game losing streak in the past three seasons, and they also had a six-game skid last season.  No matter what progress you see in the finer details, progress can not be claimed in the final analysis.

“This league is about wins and losses, and we haven’t been winning,” Holliday said. “Nobody cares about anything else.”

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